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Booster campaign in need of momentum

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A nurse fills a syringe for a Covid jab during a vaccination booster programme in Michigan. Picture by Emily Elconin

A nurse fills a syringe for a Covid jab during a vaccination booster programme in Michigan. Picture by Emily Elconin

A nurse fills a syringe for a Covid jab during a vaccination booster programme in Michigan. Picture by Emily Elconin

The Government and the health authorities have been rightly praised for the success of Ireland’s vaccination campaign, which currently has more than 90pc of the eligible population double-jabbed. However, the country cannot afford to rest on its laurels. It has been known for several months that vaccine booster shots will be required to maintain a high level of immunity against Covid, yet the booster campaign has been slow to gain momentum.

A strong case exists to fully reopen all mass vaccination centres, allowing older age groups and the vulnerable to immediately receive a third jab and then quickly move down through the age groups to provide maximum protection. It would be a shame to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at this critical moment.

In this newspaper today, the respected immunologist and commentator Professor Luke O’Neill warns that urgency needs to be injected into the booster campaign to provide people with greater protection at Christmas. He says Niac, the vaccination advisory body, should “act out of character” and make a “rapid decision” to allow all over-60s to be vaccinated as soon as possible. To delay it for six months or longer “could cost lives,” he says, in a warning that needs to be heeded.

Former government minister Alan Shatter goes further to say it is an “outrageous scandal” that the booster campaign for the 60 to 80 age group did not begin last month, and he refers to his expert knowledge of the Israeli booster programme that started at the end of July.

Belatedly, progress is being made, but far too slowly. Around 20,000 people aged 80 and over have yet to receive their third dose, which is being administered through GPs. It will not be until the end of this month that all over-80s will be triple-jabbed. Booster doses for the over-65s in long-term care facilities are substantially, although not fully, complete. Similarly, less than half of the 100,000-strong immunocompromised group have received third doses.

It was only last week that boosters for people in their 70s began, and there are about 336,000 in this group. Again, they are being vaccinated through GPs. It will take four to five weeks for this age group to be substantially completed. That is not good enough.

People in their 60s are to receive doses through vaccination centres, but that will not be completed until the end of next month. At that stage, the immunity of many people over 50 will already be considerably weaker. Meanwhile, about 305,000 healthcare workers will start getting third jabs this weekend, a process that will take four to six weeks to complete. From this HSE projected timeline, it is evident that greater urgency needs to be given to the booster campaign.

The slower-than-expected roll-out of third doses comes at a time when Covid case numbers are rising to concerning levels again. The latest wave is expected to peak later this month. There has been considerable focus on the number of patients in hospital and ICUs who have decided not to be vaccinated at all. However, a significant proportion of those who have contracted the virus in this wave are already double-vaccinated. The Government and the health authorities are also placing responsibility on the public at this time, urging social connections to be minimised. This is good advice and should be heeded. However, the rolling out of the booster campaign needs an injection of urgency.

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